October 13, 2004 GMT
Stop at the Cuckoo

Went to the barber this morning. Once they'd got over their surprise at having a Western female customer I was positively pampered. Had a no.3, and the barber was meticulous with the cutthroat razor on my neck and around my ears. Hot towels and absolutely no hairs down the back of my neck to irritate me for the rest of the day. And it all cost less than a standard at Melvyn's in Thatcham.

It's raining, although warm. I think it rains a lot here; there are umbrella-vending machines (the currently fashionable colour is white) and most establishments have umbrella stands at their entrance - like bicycles, they don't appear to go walkies. The middle-aged receptionist at the hotel keeps running out after me trying to make me use one, and was terribly worried about the bike, wanting to put it under cover.

Japan has been a culture shock. I didn't really know what to expect, but it's even more different than I had any idea of. The thing about going overland is that things change gradually - western Europe merges into eastern Europe, which merges into Russia. But the Russian Far East is very Western, and the 500 miles separating it from Japan is an enormous gulf; I'm in a different world entirely. The overwhelming impression is of immense courtesy and meticulousness.

Take being a pedestrian. Pedestrian crossings abound. At major junctions there's a countdown timer so you know how long you'll have to wait. Other crossings have bird calls. I haven't quite fathomed it yet, but I think you stop during the cuckoo and go at the other chirruping thing - but there's the usual red or green man signal as well. If there's no traffic control you just cross, and even a tram will stop for you. No-one blocks junctions, and if you're crossing a side street vehicles turning in or out just wait without any signs of impatience. No-one seems to be in a hurry, either; I imagine the big cities are somewhat different, but Toyama's a decent size - industrial city with a population of around 350,000.

I'm going to Kanazawa tomorrow. There's one of the best gardens in Japan, a Honda family museum (they were connected with the ruling clan a century or so ago), and other interesting stuff about the samurai, gold-leaf manufacture and ceramics.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at October 13, 2004 04:58 PM GMT

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